Thursday, March 29, 2012

Changing perspectives & being back in school

I got the fortune of getting admission to a short course for entrepreneurs, which essentially refreshes a few things I should have studied properly at my b school.

The two main teachers are from London Business School, and I did come here with a prejudice that what they teach may be more from a British context and may not fit into Indian situations.

Also after reaching here I was a little dismayed that most of the peer group was too young and felt initially that peer group learning may not be as effective as I wished it to be.

I can't explain how wrong I've been on both counts. The professor Mr Jeff Skinner is just amazing- the contents of his course is very appropriate and the energy he brings to a highly interactive session is tremendous. Among the bunch of youngsters there are quite a few really talented people from whom I've learned quite a lot.

Just a few days into the course has brought about a good amount of change in the way I think, both from classroom discussions and late night hostel discussions, making me feel a lot younger!

I'm really glad that I made the effort and spent money in coming all the way to Ghaziabad to attend this programme.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Film Review - Kahaani

What a movie! I'd read rave reviews of the movie and had gone with very high expectations, that too with two friends who'd already seen the movie, threatening to reveal thhe suspense everytime the movie took a turn. Yet I found the movie very thrilling, with very powerful and convincing performances.

Vidya Balan has been fantastic, playing the role of a pregnant woman with keen attention to detail like style of walking, getting tired easily, mannerisms, etc. Other supporting roles- especially that of police officer Rana and intelligence officer Khan - have also been excellent.

In spite of having two friends cracking jokes now and then, the spookiness factor was not lost. Then, like mentioned in two contexts towards the end, a pregnant woman, whom no one sees as harmful, can get to information normal people cannot.

Yet another bonus of the movie is the way Kolkata is captured in a very natural way.

Initially it is difficult to keep connecting the seemingly disconnected incidents, but the dots gets connected at the end.

A very good thriller, in short a must watch. Hats off to Vidya for carrying the entire movie on her shoulder, and hats off to the director for the right casting, including for people with minor roles like the LIC agent cum serial killer.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A free bird

Today was my last day at Vortex. Honestly it has not yet sunk in fully that I'm no longer part of the company. The product and the team behind the product has been so much of an inspiration. For the last three plus years, I had lived Vortex. It will surely take a while before my mind accepts the change.

It has not been an easy decision to foray into entrepreneurship, especially coming from a middle class family of regular salary earners. The rebellious streak I had early on as mentioned in my previous post was rekindled recently while coming across this new opportunity. The sense of increased purpose made me feel that if I did not grab the chance now, I'd regret it my entire life. And thus I've embarked on something unthinkable in my middle class family and friends circle - let go of an assured decent salary in return for passion and potential for higher returns.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Eight years later...

I am quoting a series of three posts I made to a worldwide KV alumni group. I was then a rebel fresher software engineer, greatly unhappy with the merely writing software for ATMs in the name of Hitachi, instead of building one of our own.  Shades of my then socialist mindset and swadeshi attitude is seen.

With my latest venture SkillVeri shaping up to use tablet based gaming for skill development and training, the destination, road and vehicle mentioned in the last of the three posts have now become clear.

These ideas came a half circle when I joined Vortex, where instead of making software on behalf of an MNC I became part of a team that made the entire ATM fully on innovative Indian technology. With this venture on skill training, I hope to come a full circle and make a difference, in line with the sense of purpose I mentioned in my previous post.

To: <>; 
 So Far So Good, What Next? 
 Fri, Dec 3, 2004 8:50:55 AM 

So Far So Good, What next?

India has become an Information Technology superpower, where we have the most brilliant computer professionals. We are also the most preferred back-end office sites in the world. The middle class and upper middle class are increasing in number, and a lot of people are able to ride the wave of IT and IT enabled services, call centres, and make a lot of money.

Fine. So far, so good. But looking from a long term perspective, where are we heading to? Get some degree, speak good English, join a call centre, make money, and spend it – does everything end there? Or take the case of engineers, who, even while in their final semesters, compete and get jobs in the IT industry as software developers irrespective of their branch of specialization, or go on to take an MBA from IiIMs, and work in an MNC. It’s not that their contribution is not good, nor that these are not to be done.  But ultimately, are we not just helping the richer people in developed countries become richer, by sweating out our youth by serving some foreign interest?

Even those who become entrepreneurs, what they do is to break off from some larger company and found their own, get a few contracts from foreign clients, and again continue the same story. The question is when do we Indians start to make our own products? The success of the IT industry proves that we are capable of doing good quality work – only that no company here is ready to take the risk of coming out with a new product. The risky part of conceptualising a new product, designing it, etc is left to foreign entrepreneurs and we are happy doing the low end implementation part – no risks, easy money, just sweat out our youth.

It’s high time our engineers thought beyond joining MNCs and working for foreigners, and begin to innovate for ourselves. Why else should we study all branches of engineering and ultimately end up writing code for others? Why not try and work in the true engineering style, to ‘engineer’ new products of our own? Why not pool our resources and contribute in some manner for a better, self-reliant India?

To: <>; 
 Next Steps - Indian Dreams, Not American 
 Mon, Dec 6, 2004 4:51:07 AM 

Next Steps - Indian Dreams, Not American

In my last posting, I pondered extensively on the lack of innovation amongst Indian engineers, and amongst the Indian society as a whole. In our yahoogroup, we’ve discussed on the problems and causes for problems – we are not ready to innovate, nor is the system conducive for any innovation.

But again, blaming the system and not doing anything about it – that has become another characteristic of us Indians. I am not suggesting all of us join politics en masse and fight corruption – just making an appeal to do our bit. The majority of us have American dreams, think (or should I say, know?) that kuchch bhi nahin sudharega” and pack off to greener pastures at the first chance. A famous politician of a developed country had once remarked, “Ask not what the state did for you, ask what you did for the state”. Had we Indians applied the same principle in our lives, we would have been at their place. Take for instance, the fees we paid at KVs. We paid no tuition fees till 9th standard, from 9th to 12th we paid, as far as I remember, less than $10 a year. In my engineering days, I paid Rs 600 per semester (less than $25 a year). The governments we are so fond of blaming – haven’t they done their part in some way? Where else in the world do we get education so cheap? If they give you scholarship, hey make you work for more than what the pay is worth for. Or like they do in Singapore, they make you sign a bond that you would work for six years in their territory. Wouldn’t there be a hue and cry, if any IITians or IIMian were to be made to work similarly for 6 years before they can look for greener pastures?

The key lies in attitude – the will to stay on and fight the ills of the system.. I have had the fortune to get associated with a person here in Thiruvananthapuram, who, despite all odds and lures of a much higher pay abroad – chose to stay on, that too in government service. He has been able to made his own mark here, and was instrumental in setting up the Friends counter in all district headquarters – a single window system through which common man can pay all his government bills – taxes, electricity bills, exam fees, what not – at a professionally managed, computerized office, where there are no office “babus”.  When I approached him regarding my Industrial Training, he deputed me to Kerala State Vigilance Bureau, who needed a software to be developed for them but didn’t have enough money to pay professionals. So it was a deal – we needn’t pay like my classmates [who paid for their internships], nor the client – a win/win situation. I am happy to think that I saved the exchequer about 1 lakh rupees, and saved a few thousands myself in payments to companies.

This mentor of mine has an Indian dream he shares with all his students – that, instead of blaming the system, we all shall do something about it. In my next and concluding part of this series, I shall put forth a few of his as well as my ideas. In the meantime, please continue to share your views.

From: Sabarinath C Nair <>; 
 Dreams to reality - the million rupee question 
 Wed, Dec 8, 2004 3:56:49 AM 

Dreams to reality - the million rupee question Lack of innovation is not limited to the field of engineering alone. A few years back, we all saw the great Indian epic, “Ramayana” being shown in cartoon network – Indian story, animation engineers from India (Toonz Animation, Technopark, Trivandrum), Indian audience, but Japanese Credits!!! Similarly, it took a British to make a film on Gandhi.

Our younger generation is fed on pokemon, and other cartoon characters, when, in our own mythology we have heroes with same powers of flying, stunt, and penchant for justice enforcement, but nobody to produce them in quality. There is so much risk involved in coming out with something new, they say, but is India not a country with supercharged emotions, where you can find a market for anything irrespective of quality?

During my interactions with many seniors in IT industry, all of them said that Indian companies are far too small to take the risk of making new products. Is that really so? Why can’t Indian MNCs like Infosys and other big shots dedicate, say, 10% of their profits to R & D and research to bring out own products?

We the youth of India should heed the call by the most charismatic of the presidents we ever had, Dr Abdul Kalam, to dream. Because only with dreams we can think of new ideas, many of which may be unrealistic and rebutted initially, but with some effort can be materialized. The Wright brothers were initially ridiculed when they spoke of flying – and remember they started from bicycle workshops.

In my college days we had a marketing competition – where we were to “sell” imaginary products of the future. Such activity should be encouraged, and it is possible to strike really great ideas in such sessions. For projects in the curriculum, engineering students should resolve to implement new ideas rather than copy existing technology. Look around us; think how we can make something new but simple to change/improve the present set up. [I’ve always wished we had a camera that could photograph full 360 degrees, and had even thought out a rough design. ;-)]

Another approach is to look at present technologies and find out cheaper alternatives so as to uplift rural India. The soul of India still lies in its villages, and if we are to become developed, we have to deliver technology to them, at Indian prices affordable to them.

The media, for its part, ought to be more positive in reporting. I am not saying that we ignore the bad things here – we should address them, but it is high time we shake off this tag of ‘land of magicians, beggars and snake charmers’. 

Also, instead on being frustrated on being unemployed, one can think about ways to be self-employed. Of course, it does involve a lot of risk and money.

This is an ambitious journey, of which the destination is well defined, but neither the road nor the vehicle is not clear to me at this stage. Maybe we’ve got to build both the road and the vehicle ourselves. I too suffer from the lack of focus common to many of us, have ideas but don’t exactly know how to go about implementing them. Let us KVians brainstorm and redeem our pledge to the nation